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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                  239
of the thought that there must be some trick behind this.
At last, after Alexei had danced a barinya in the middle
of a ring of applauding admirers, wildly clapping his
thighs and cheeks as he leaped and capered, he went up
to Mirovolsky, perspiring and excited. The surgeon shook
hands with him in silent respect. Alexei said nothing, but
his eyes looked straight into those of the surgeon, implor-
ing, demanding an answer.
"You understand, of course," the surgeon said at last,
"that I have no right to appoint you to a unit, but I will
give you a certificate for the Personnel Department. I will
certify that with proper training you will be fit to fly. In
any case, you can count on my vote."
Mirovolsky left the hall arm in arm with the head of
the sanatorium, who was also an army surgeon of consid-
erable experience. Both were filled with amazement and
admiration. They sat for a long time before going to bed,
smoking and discussing what Soviet men could do when
they were really determined to do it....
In the meantime, while the music was still thundering
and the shadows of the dancers thrown by the light from
the open windows were still flitting across the ground, Ale-
xei Meresyev was locked in the upstairs bath-room with
his legs immersed in cold water, biting his lips until they
bled. Almost fainting from pain, he bathed the livid cal-
luses and the wide sores caused by the fierce friction of the
artificial feet.
An hour later, when Major Struchkov entered the bed-
room, Meresyev, washed and refreshed, was sitting in front
of the mirror combing his wet, wavy hair.
"Zinochka is looking for you. You ought to take her for
a farewell stroll. I'm sorry for the girl."
"Let's go together!" answered Meresyev eagerly. "Do
come, Pavel Ivanovich," he pleaded.
The thought of being alone with that pretty girl who
had gone to such trouble to teach him to dance made him
feel uneasy; after the receipt of Olya's letter he felt awk-
ward in her presence. He kept on urging Strachkov to go
with him until, at last, the latter grumblingly picked up
his cap.
Zinochka was waiting on the balcony, holding the rem-
nants of a bunch of flowers; the floor at her feet was